Voice technology: State of the industry

Order picking with voice technology has undergone many changes since the 1990s. Here’s what experts told Modern about the current state of the industry.

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Order picking with voice technology has undergone a number of advances since its pioneering days of the 1990s. Voice picking once consisted of predominantly proprietary hardware and software solutions using mobile computers embedded with speaker-dependent speech engines.  Then in the early 2000s, vendors began to shift to more open architecture solutions that they embedded in commercial, off-the-shelf mobile computing devices. This open hardware era saw an increase in speaker-independent technologies and the rise in multi-modal functionality allowing devices to capture data multiple ways, including voice, scanning and RFID.

Modern recently spoke with three experts in voice technology about the current state of the industry. 

Doug Brown, vice president of marketing and product management, Datria: “Warehouse voice solutions have crossed the chasm and are transitioning from proprietary to standards-based technologies, now usable throughout the enterprise. We’re first-to-market with VoIP supply chain solutions via network speech recognition, achieving new standards in performance at the lowest total cost of ownership. By being network based, these solutions easily extend beyond the four walls into transportation management, field service, yard management, and even to the retail store floor.” 

Mike Maris, senior director of transportation and logistics, Motorola: “In terms of hardware, much is being done in the area of noise suppression. It’s critical for the system to be able to hear the user respond and be able to interpret that. Advancements in noise suppression, microphones, and earphones have probably been one of the biggest parts of that goal. The whole idea is to really move away from having a dependence on one speaker on one unit so that anybody can pick up any unit, say a few words and be off and running. “

Tom Murray, vice president, product management and marketing, Vocollect: “It’s in a transition state. The focus had been voice picking, but now we see it moving across multiple workflows such as putaway, replenishment and cycle counting. And because voice will be going across more workflows, what appliances/devices/product capabilities will be required will be the question. The goal is to provide this complementary functionality or extensibility in the solution where you start with voice and add barcode scanning, add display, or add a keypad input.”

Scott Yetter, CEO and president, Voxware: “We’ve broadened the footprint of our applications in terms of doing more things in the warehouse such as loading, putaway, replenishment and cycle counting. We’re starting to see a convergence of technologies and you’re seeing different kinds of user interfaces. A number of the devices that are now being made support 3G or 4G, thus making it a lot easier to do mobile applications outside the warehouse; and now that cellular networks are becoming ubiquitous, there are new opportunities for voice beyond the warehouse.” 

About the Author

Maida Napolitano
Maida Napolitano has worked as a Senior Engineer for various consulting companies specializing in supply chain, logistics, and physical distribution since 1990. She’s is the principal author for the following publications: Using Modeling to Solve Warehousing Problems (WERC); Making the Move to Cross Docking (WERC); The Time, Space & Cost Guide to Better Warehouse Design (Distribution Group); and Pick This! A Compendium of Piece-Pick Process Alternatives (WERC). She has worked for clients in the food, health care, retail, chemical, manufacturing and cosmetics industries, primarily in the field of facility layout and planning, simulation, ergonomics, and statistic analysis. She holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of the Philippines and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, respectively. She can be reached at [email protected]

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